Publication details [#5077]

Giddens, Elizabeth J. 1990. John McPhee's rhetoric of balance and perspective. Knoxville, Tenn.. ix, 231 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


John McPhee employs a rhetorical strategy which balances journalistic fair-mindedness with a persuasive aim. Several of Kenneth Burke's key concepts - symbolic act, dramatism, and identification - facilitate an analysis of this strategy in 'Coming Into the Country', McPhee's acclaimed book about the challenges facing Alaska during the 1970's. Chapter II describes the symbolic act of 'Coming Into the Country' by focusing on its architecture and key terms. The work is divided into three books, each with a circular narrative frame indicating McPhee's reluctance to judge quickly or easily about Alaskan conservation, politics, and people. This continuously inwardly-turning structure alerts readers to the complexity and significance of each book's key terms: the myth of the Alaskan wilderness, the concerns of urban and political Alaska, and the pioneer spirit of its citizens. Chapter III discusses McPhee's presentational rhetoric, which functions through the accumulation and juxtaposition of synecdoches, introducing readers to a number of representative Alaskan voices. McPhee's repertoire of organizational elements - including reconstructed scenes, anecdotes, descriptions, histories, biographies, surveys of opinions, and excerpts from other sources - becomes the foundation of a dialectic about Alaska. As the value and limitations of many perspectives become apparent, the reader recognizes the attractiveness of McPhee's advocacy of informed and empathic pluralism. Chapter IV analyzes how a reader is encouraged to identify with McPhee's perspective because of his formulation of an appealing persona both as a character struggling to discover his own attitudes toward Alaskan issues and as a witty, intelligent, and empathic author. The fifth chapter illustrates how the architectural, organizational, and identification techniques of 'Coming Into the Country' appear as patterns throughout McPhee's work. These techniques typically enable McPhee to demonstrate and foster a pluralistic philosophy. (Dissertation Abstracts)